The Professional Writers Association of Canada (formerly the Periodical Writers Association of Canada) represents professional freelance writers working in Canada's magazine, newspaper, corporate writing, government writing and book publishing industries. For more information about PWAC, including how to join, please visit www.pwac.ca. To find a Canadian writer, please visit www.writers.ca

Thursday, November 30, 2006

considered opinion

It has been a little over a month since the Supreme Court of Canada released their decision in the Heather Robertson v. Thomson Corp. appeal. Since that day, there has been a great deal of discussion among writers (and publishers) about the meaning of the decision and its implications for the industry going forward. PWAC recently participated in a roundtable discussion at the Ontario Bar Association on this topic, and as is so often the case in the world of copyright, we came away with the sense that the discussion is nowhere near finished.

To help in everyone's understanding of just what was and what wasn't decided on October 12th, we present the following considered analysis of the decision, written by Warren Sheffer of Hebb & Sheffer, a Toronto law firm deeply involved in copyright and the cultural industries. This report was originally written for copyright lawyer Lesley Ellen Harris' website and copyright newsletter, and is republished here with her kind permission. You can subscribe to Lesley Ellen Harris' newsletter at her website.

Among those of Mr. Sheffer's insights PWAC finds particularly interesting is this bit (emphasis ours):

Notably, the majority, which seems to have been ultimately determined by the swing vote of the Court’s newest judge, Justice Rothstein, did not adopt a utilitarian perspective on Canadian copyright law that the Court had early expressed in its seminal 2002 decision Théberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain inc. (In this case, artist Claude Théberge took exception to his art being chemically lifted off paper posters and transferred onto canvasses without permission, an act that the Court, by a slim 4-3 majority, found did not violate Théberge’s copyright). Accordingly, it would appear that the Supreme Court is not prepared to embrace fully a utilitarian approach to copyright law, or put differently, it does not appear that the Court will abandon or ignore the author’s right perspective on copyright espoused by the minority in Théberge. Where the latter perspective is generally more favourable to authors and artists and is rooted in the belief that copyright is granted to creators as a matter of natural justice...

Download the full report as a PDF below:

Writers' Rights Upheld

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free press alert

For Immediate Release: November 30, 2006

PWAC Objects to Court Pressure on Writer

The Professional Writers Association of Canada joins with Canada’s other free press advocates in supporting Toronto writer and editor Derek Finkle in his fight to maintain journalistic integrity in the face of extreme pressure from the courts.

Mr. Finkle, the best-selling author of No Claim to Mercy, a book about the Robert Baltovich murder case, has been court-ordered to turn over his research notes and other materials relating to the book. These events follow closely the cases of two other Canadian writers, Juliett O’Neill and Bill Dunphy, both of whom were pressured to release confidential information.

“In our view,” says PWAC President Suzanne Boles, “prosecutors are attempting to use a writer’s good and professional work to build their case, and that is not how a free society expects their justice system to act. The principle of source confidentiality must be respected and protected, or our free press unravels.”

The Baltovich case is going to retrial after the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned an original conviction. Mr. Finkle has expressed his intention to fight the court order and to protect the confidentiality of his research work and sources. Such action by the courts places a ridiculously heavy cost burden on an individual writer, and is unnecessary where prosecutorial due diligence is performed.

“A writer working within an established principle of a separate and free press,” adds Executive Director John Degen, ”is being forced to choose between respecting the courts and protecting his very career. As a society, we should refuse to subject our journalists to such unfair pressure.”

PWAC, established in 1976, is the national organization representing 600 professional freelance writers and journalists in Canada.

More information:

Suzanne Boles, PWAC President
suzanne@writeconnection.org
(519) 680-1658

John Degen, Executive Director
jdegen@pwac.ca
(416) 504-1645

For a PDF version of this release, click the following link:

PWAC Press Release -- Nov. 30, 2006

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

citizen revolt

Last week, PWAC staff attended an Ontario Bar Association roundtable discussion concerning the recent Supreme Court decision in the Heather Robertson case. We were there to present the professional freelance writer perspective on the ruling -- we won the big question, and will keep winning despite ongoing challenges on our side of the industry.

One thing we heard repeated from the "other side" of the roundtable was the challenge newspapers foresee incorporating a growing "citizen journalism" into the traditional business model for paid content in newspapers. The suggestion seemed to be that professional writing might somehow be out of fashion anyway.

Citizen journalism, if it is indeed a growing concern for Canada's newspapers in their hunt for content, is not such a futuristic concept, nor has it proven it has a place beyond certain highly specialized niches. Reader's Digest has been publishing their citizen journal, Our Canada (Where readers share their stories) for a number of years now. Youtube and the explosion of blogs are often linked to a perceived rise in amateur reportage, though the quality of that content has yet to prove anywhere near stable or dependable in the way traditional media, say newspapers, might require it to be. And there's recent news that the model has spread to other media, notably television. This report is from The Guardian online (though the full story appears to be locked behind a subscriber wall):

The race to successfully commercialise user-generated content has accelerated again with the launch of Sumo.tv, a dedicated UGC TV channel going live across the UK from today.

Sumo.tv claims to be the world's first user-content TV channel and will run on Sky channel 146, offering a 24-hour mix of new submissions and classic cult content.

The programming is supplied by and targets 18- to 35-year-olds, much of it based around the fail-safe combination of Jackass-style slapstick, gory stunts and weird experiments.

On the other side of that particular roundtable, The New Criterion (America’s foremost voice of critical dissent in culture and the arts) is now running a series of ads for their publication, selling the worth of their product on the notion of professional, high quality writing. What a concept.

A staunch defender of the values of high culture, The New Criterion is also an articulate scourge of artistic mediocrity and intellectual mendacity wherever they are found: in the universities, the art galleries, the media, the concert halls, the theater, and elsewhere.

Note to TNC:

If you're looking for some artistic mediocrity and intellectual mendacity to scourge, maybe have a glance at Sumo.tv.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

complicated enough for ya?

Clearly, copyright discussions won't be getting any easier the deeper we all dig into this important concept:

According to the New York Times, the creative team behind a hit Broadway show are suing two other productions of the same show, claiming copyright over the creative decisions they made in putting their own production together. In effect, they are claiming the other productions are copying the original, not just by using the same script (the use of which is legally licensed), but by using other creative elements (set design, directorial choices, etc.) without permission.

"The Broadway creative team is demanding, among other things, that the teams for both the Chicago and Akron productions provide a detailed accounting of all their revenues, from which “an appropriate license fee and damages” would be determined. The letter to the Chicago production also demands that [the choreographer of one of the newer shows] formally return any awards he won for his work on the show."

Stories like this illustrate just how slippery a concept intellectual property can be, and also just how much necessary value is placed on this property in traditional creator communities. Under the "value added" model of derivative creativity are there no necessary limits? What if the derivative work, (a new production of a Broadway show, for instance) does not actually add any value to the original product? If a choreographer makes no creative contribution to an established show, does s/he deserve a career enhancing award for the work?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Mag Awards

If you have written for a Canadian magazine in the past year, please be reminded of the 30th Anniversary National Magazine Awards call for submissions, which opens December 1, 2006 and ends January 10, 2007. The 30th Anniversary Awards Gala will be hosted on June 15, 2007 at the Carlu in Toronto.

The submission process, instructions and guidelines, a list of categories, and other relevant information are available at the NMA website.

PWAC members are always in the list of finalists for these awards. Make sure you ask your assigning editor to submit your work for the NMAs, and good luck!

Monday, November 13, 2006

CMG Steps Up

Any PWAC member who has done freelance work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) this past year will have recently received a pamphlet from the Canadian Media Guild entitled "Taking the Free out of Freelancer." Accompanying the pamphlet is a letter from Don Genova, president of the CMG's Freelance Branch. The Freelance Branch represents anyone who has signed a freelance specific services contract with the CBC.

Like the Canadian Freelance Union (CFU), a "national local" of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), the CMG's Freelance Branch is organized labour's response to the writing on the wall in Canadian media. As a higher percentage of media work is contracted to freelancers, we need to be recognized by organized labour as an important ally in the struggle for workers' rights.

The pamphlet contains some inspiring advice, such as:

Show me the Money! As an experienced freelancer, avoid working for the minimum rates wherever possible. Your fee should reflect your experience and expertise. Remember: a staff reporter with five years of experience would never work for the salary of a rookie. You shouldn't either.

It's Your Work: As a Freelance Contributor, you own the copyright to your work. It is your intellectual property -- guard it with your life! If you choose to assign or sell your copyright, ensure you receive significant compensation.

For more information about the CMG's Freelance Branch, please see their website

For information on the CFU, please see their site.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

October Achievements

PWAC members, and entire chapters, have spent the early autumn achieving great success. A full list of PWAC member achievements for October can be found at the link below. Here are some highlights:

Quebec member Julie Barlow has released a book. Written with her husband Jean-Benoît Nadeau, The Story of French explores the origins, development and spread of the French language, explaining why French is still an influential international language in spite of the popularity of English. The couple will also be publishing US and UK editions of The Story of French this fall.

Prairies member Myrna MacDonald Ridley picked up a silver in the "press feature" category of the Canadian Farm Writers' Federation annual awards program last month. She received the award for her feature, "Blinded by the Night," that appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of Horse Health Lines (a Western College of Veterinary Medicine publication).

After 40 years in the writing business, Ontario-at-Large member Judy Scott has finally achieved a major goal - a cover story in a national magazine. Judy's feature, The Great Stone House, was featured in the September issue of Acreage Life, published out of Saskatoon. Now 66, Judy's advice: "Never give up!"

Quebec member (and Chapter President) Craig Silverman sold a book about media errors and accuracy based on his award-winning website, http://www.RegretTheError.com, to Penguin in Canada and Carroll & Graf in The US & UK. Craig's writing has recently appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Montreal Gazette, Report on Business magazine, Toro magazine, and Chocolat magazine.

Over the October 21st weekend, B.C. PWACers held their professional retreat on Saltspring Island. The theme "Advocacy and Activism" engaged 29 members from the region and eastern Canada. Wildlife artist Robert Bateman and author Terry Glavin both invoked the precipice as a metaphor for the eco-crisis. Bateman warned about the erosion of biodiversity, "the crowning glory of the planet." Glavin explored the writers' dilemma "the responsibility to contribute to a common conversation in the face of global warming and expanding capitalist economy." Whale expert Paul Spong fears that global warming will destroy the Orca food chain. Journalist Deborah Campbell transported us behind the media curtain that cloaks the "real" Iran. She linked two concerns, media concentration and why we need narrative non-fiction. Visits to two organic farms concluded the event. For more information on the Victoria Chapter go to: http://www.islandnet.com/pwacvic/homepage.html

Congratulations everyone -- click the link for the full list of October PWAC member achievements.